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The Times drops another 120,000 online readers

27 Sep 2010  |  Liz Jaques 
New Times Plus website

The Times has lost another 120,000 online readers, according to Beehive.  The media blog claims that the Times recorded 1.459 million unique visitors in August, down 7.6% from 1.579 million visitors in July.

If that wasn't bad enough for the News Int team, the total minutes spent on the new Times site were also down, as were total page views.  The site went behind a paywall in July.  The News of the World's website is expected to follow shortly, with thesun.co.uk paywall to come next.

It is not unusual to see a drop in readers during August - it is the holiday season afterall, however, the comScore data shows that the Times' decline is significantly larger than the decreases experienced by its fellow broadsheet titles' web offerings.

In the same period, the Guardian's unique visitor count was down 1.6%, while the Telegraph dipped by just 1.1% and the Independent actually gained online readers - up 1.3%.  The Guardian and the Telegraph also managed to increase their total page views and total minutes (as did the Independent).

While these latest findings don't bode well for the Times, the figures aren't entirely unexpected.  A recent study by TGI found that only 4% of internet users are willing to pay to access content on newspaper websites.  And while News International continues to keep quiet about the actual numbers, it is difficult to tell just how well, or badly, the Times site is really doing.

comScore data shows that it lost 575,000 unique visitors in its first month behind a paywall.  However, unique visitors don't equate to a paying subscriber - they are simply people hitting the page, whether they go any further than that is another story.

ABCe has the more detailed numbers, but News Int has decided the keep them under wraps for now, presumably because they are lower than expected at this stage.  As Raymond Snoddy said in his Newsline column last week: "You can be sure that if sales were really 'going well' a press release would have been issued long ago."  Maybe they are waiting until the new ad campaign with actor Rupert Everett has run its course, in the hope that it will boost numbers.

In July, Beehive believed the figure to be around 15,000 paying subs with an additional 12,500 subscribing to the Times' iPad app.

Hopefully News International's trading director Dominic Carter will shed some light on the real numbers at MediaTel Group's Future of National Newspapers seminar this Friday.  Afterall, the publisher said it wouldn't be releasing any numbers for at least three months after the transition from free to paid and that three months is up at the end of this week.

So, as Snoddy put it - "Everyone in the media business, with the possible exception of immediate rivals, is praying that somehow, against all odds and conventional wisdom, the Murdoch hunch will prove to be right and that the public can be persuaded to pay for general news online... so let's hope he brings some nice optimistic numbers with him."

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